Written by: Peter Minkoff
Alternative energy is on the rise, and it will continue to grow in the decades to come. The renewables are expected to be more profitable in the future, eliminating the need for subsidy. And more than ever before, companies and governments are looking for the best ways to harness and deploy renewable energy on a global scale.
Partly, it results from pressure like policy changes that have accelerated the development of new renewable energy technologies. Still, a positive shift towards expanding renewable capacity is encouraging.
Here are five emerging renewable energy alternatives that will shape the future of the energy industry.
1. Space-based solar power
In his short story "Reason," Isaac Asimov predicted capturing energy from the sun over seven decades ago. Flash forward to today, we have scientists researching on space solar power that could solve our greenhouse gas emission issues with little environmental influence.
What is space-based solar power (SBSP)?
This concept refers to capturing solar energy in outer space by a certain mechanism and transporting it to Earth. Once a special antenna obtains the power, it could be easily distributed using regular methods.
A private company named Solaren plans to build a solar array plant in GEO (Geosynchronous orbit) to generate power.
SBSP could provide clean and reliable power to the planet 24/7, even at night, or when it's cloudy. Introducing space solar power into the world could change society in profound ways.
2. Harnessing deep ocean currents
Did you know that 80 percent of the ocean's potential lies in deep waters? Yes, you heard it right! According to some scientists, harnessing the ocean's power could provide humanity with limitless clean and renewable energy.
The idea is to create giant underwater turbines that could capture the energy from deep ocean currents.
Gulf Stream off the coast of Florida and other ocean currents have never been used before as natural energy sources. A group of scientists behind the Crowd Energy project is trying to do precisely that: exploit strong undersea torrents.
When it comes to capturing water energy, there are more exciting studies being done. Researchers from the City University of Hong Kong have developed a triboelectric nanogenerator that harvests water energy with slippery surfaces.
3. Geothermal power
Geothermal energy is the term that refers to heat within the Earth. Our planet's inner core is as hot as the sun's surface, and this heat could have a significant role in future energy sources. It is produced by the slow decay of radioactive particles in the Earth's core.
A geothermal powerplant converts heat into electricity, just like coal, gas, and nuclear power plants. In a process similar to drilling for oil, heat from the Earth is accessed by drilling hot water or dry steam wells.
Geothermal power plants can provide a stable supply of electricity 24/7 as they are unaffected by weather. Since energy can be produced without burning fossil fuel, geothermal power is considered to be clean.
And the almost unlimited amount of heat generated by the Earth's core makes it a renewable resource.
4. Harvesting wind from higher altitudes
Most of the energy floating around the planet in the form of wind is in the sky. So, today's wind energy technology misses most of the wind. Besides deep ocean currents, the high-altitude wind of the troposphere is another untapped renewable energy source.
Winds over 500m are much stronger and steadier in comparison to heights reached by existing wind tower technology.
This source exceeds the world's current energy needs. According to Stanford environmental and climate scientists, this is the greatest source of concentrated energy on Earth. There is around 100 times more energy in high-altitude winds than all the electricity being consumed on Earth.
Engineers are working on floating wind turbines that could capture all this energy. It is estimated that powerful jet streams would flow through the turbines more than 10 times faster than winds flow near the ground!
5. Renewable or "green" hydrogen
Green hydrogen is a climate-friendly alternative that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. It is a non-toxic gas made by using clean electricity from renewable energy technologies. It requires water, a big electrolyzer, and large supplies of electricity for electrolysis.
For hydrogen to be green, the electricity needs to come from renewable sources. The problem is that renewable electricity still isn't that inexpensive, and big electrolyzers are short in supply.
Since electrifying everything would be difficult, combining renewable energy with low carbon fuels seems more feasible.
This is why interest in renewable hydrogen is rapidly increasing among major oil and gas companies. It could replace industrial hydrogen, directly power fuel cells in automobiles and ships, and burn-in thermal power facilities or heating plants when added to natural gas.
Although very promising, some of these energy alternatives are still in their infancy. Hopefully, they could make us less reliant on fossil fuels and reshape our future for the better!